Anarchy and The Value Of A Photograph

Fabien Breuvart pulled off what I would call a lovely stunt great piece of performance art last week in Paris. He and a half dozen accomplices scrounged up several giant garbage bags full of anonymous vintage photos and–in a fit of anarchy–dumped these thousands of photos into a huge pile in front of the VIP entrance of the posh Paris Photo 2009 gala underway at the Louvre.

Inside the event, some of the worlds most valued photographs were aiming to fetch $60,000, but thanks to Breuvart, the international art crowd seemed more attuned to pile of vintage photography amidst cries of “free photos!” out front…seemingly a choice to stay outside to collect, even cherish, free and unusual images that had “no value”, rather than sip champagne and salivate over art whose value was chosen by others.

Is it tomfoolery or a breath of fresh air to see culturally-literate adults scavenging for pictures on their hands and knees as if they were kids and the pinata had just exploded at a birthday party. Is this a story about a stunt, about the power of photography, the maligned “value” of what the art market assigns to be worth our attention?

Video of the anarchists in action after the jump…[click the 'continue reading' link below]

(Note: the vid is in French, but that doesn’t keep you from understanding the “event” perfectly. You clearly get the sense that it’s there’s a disconnect present between value and no value, whos who and anonymity, the posh and the streets.)

[via the lovely blog Lens Culture.]

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23 Responses to Anarchy and The Value Of A Photograph

  1. The Malabarian Doctah December 1, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    Power to the people!

  2. Sherri Innis December 1, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    magnifique ça

  3. Nikita Buida December 1, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    That is really cool idea! I totally like the fact that a value of free and anonymous art was at such an impressive display!

  4. Ruben Brulat December 1, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Thanks to Fabien, who had this amazing idea. We had such a funny moment, and we really expect that security will pull us out the Louvre. But no.

    Paris Photo director was happy and the people more than we will have ever expect. Everyone goin' out with bunch of sentimental valuable photographs. No money there just a family, or friendly moment that was shot few decades ago, witch in fact can't be valued. Thanks to you.

  5. Zak.Shelhamer December 1, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Thats insane! that sounds like a really awesome dream… "here Zak go ahead and dig though these priceless photos, pick whatever you want… its free" That is a gorgeous moment in the photo world.

  6. Matt Timmons December 1, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    Nope. It was just killer deals on photos during Black Friday.

  7. JeffScottShaw December 1, 2009 at 11:08 am #

    I was reminded of the value of a photo and the joy that it can bring over Thanksgiving as we projected slides for my sickly Grandma. She may have a tough time recognizing people today but when she saw those slides (some from 50 years ago) she identified with all of them and it was the happiest we have seen her in months. They weren't amazingly shot, didn't have the best technique, but they communicated and we're valued by her. I would have loved to be in Paris for that just to see the faces of those who walked away with something that while free, held a high value.

  8. nielsp December 1, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. It is one of the nicest bits of news I have heard in a long time. It is just great to see that people still love the photograph. Especially, as these people seem to demonstrate, if it captures a moment in time.


  9. Freddy December 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    There you go, Thanksgiving was last week but hey never too late to give back :) So I'm thankful for my French and here's something back.

    Starts at
    Dude:The idea is to stay together and have everything done quickly. When you get to the designated area, tear the bags open and empty their content.

    Dude: We want to prove that photography should not be something that is necessarily expensive. It can be, but it shouldn’t be alright that other forms of photography are being diminished, uh… photography should be rewarding for everyone.

    Long hair chick: It’s an awesome concept. It’s statement that art should be accessible to everyone.

    Old lady: I took a whole bunch and I’m simply amazed by those pictures because it reminds me of my childhood and how photographs used to be. It’s beautiful.

    Chick with green scarf: It’s fun to look around for pictures.

    Dude: Photography is a social practice, something that is done collectively, it’s a proof of love and what else do we need more today than love… I don’t need any wallpapers, I just want those proof of love hanging on my wall. Photography is a proof of love.

    Unidentified speaker: It’s beautiful

  10. cristina December 1, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    bravo fabien!

  11. Dan Creighton December 1, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    The micro-stock paradigm comes to the fine art world. What a nice play on the times this stunt was.

  12. Tuffer December 1, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    thats brilliant. I like that people actually went after them. that shows a respect and understanding on their part for images in general and not just the expensive ones inside.

  13. jay December 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    Coolest idea ever!

  14. Scott Hargis December 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    I think it's brilliant. And I think the message is, different photos are valuable for different reasons. Those people were experiencing the simple joy of finding and looking at images. Then they went inside and experienced art on a different level.
    It's kind of like how I experience music — I get incredible happiness and even therapeutic value out of banging away on my guitar (I suck, suck, suck on the guitar), but I can also get similar feelings from going to the SF Opera. Two different musical experiences, both valid.

  15. Arnel Garcia December 1, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    Hi Chase. Congratulations to you regarding the article about you in the Masters issue of Digital Photo Pro. You are really a Master of the New Media, and a Master of sharing and more.

  16. Wayne Yuan December 2, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    Very nice article!

  17. Julia Z December 2, 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    What they did is very cool. There are also good examples of what art is, what value is and how all of this is social proof for group behavior. Interesting stuff :)

  18. Jarle December 4, 2009 at 4:22 am #

    Very cool! One could argue that art is business – nothing else.

    Art often reminds me of the story about the emperor's new clothes.

  19. JasonP December 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    I just watched a documentary over here in the UK called "The Mona Lisa Curse" where the art-critic host details the demise of art for art's sake once the Mona Lisa became a spectacle and something "to see" vs. something to admire and appreciate. He says that was the start of the super inflated prices for art (and photography might as well be included). Good to see someone bucking the trend.

  20. Britman December 7, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Brilliant, we can't let those elites put a price tag on our photos. Every picture is priceless to those that love and cherish them. Whether it's your first pet or the only picture left of a long past Mother. To you no amount of money will ever make you part with it.

  21. Tommy December 7, 2009 at 8:11 pm #

    This is just lovely and the instigators should be very proud for having shown the social activity if photography for what it is. How sweet was that older ladies reaction!
    Thanks for posting chase.

  22. -gary December 18, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    The sad part of all of it, is that those are thousands of lost memories lying there on the floor. Photography is not that old, it's not like those are images from ancient times long past.

  23. David Sowers / DASO Photo December 24, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    refreshing…nice to see the value of digging through the "old shoe box". I love it!

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